Bullying law to get tough on bullies

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Bullying law to get tough on bullies

Amendments to the Fair Work Act empowering the Commission to make orders to deal with complaints about workplace bullying (and/or refer to the relevant state WHS regulator) were announced by the Federal Government on Tuesday.

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Amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009 empowering the Commission to make orders to deal with complaints about workplace bullying (and/or refer to the relevant state WHS regulator) were announced by the Federal Government on Tuesday (12 February), in its response to last year’s parliamentary inquiry into workplace bullying chaired by ALP MP Amanda Risworth.

The proposal to enable the Fair Work Commission to tackle individual cases of workplace bullying has been praised by a prominent law firm and the Greens, but the business community is concerned it will ‘cause more problems than it solves’.

The new laws would require the Commission to deal with any complaint about workplace bullying as a ‘matter of priority’ including by listing it for consideration within 14 days.

The government also indicated its support for the majority of the 23 recommendations of the inquiry, including adopting the definition:
Bullying, harassment or victimisation means repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.’
ACTU supports move

The proposal has been welcomed by ACTU president Ged Kearney. She said victims of intimidation, harassment and oppressive behaviours in the workplace require quick access to a processes that can deal effectively with the problem.
 
‘The proposed changes would make it much easier for employees to access an independent umpire in the form of the Fair Work Commission to resolve the issue,’ she said.

‘This may lead to swift conflict resolution instead of allowing the issue to fester and possibly lead to unfortunate or tragic circumstances.’

‘But no matter what the laws, employers must be accountable for providing safe workplaces in which bullying does not occur in the first place.’

Every workplace should have policies and procedures to deal with bullying and harassment, as it’s essential for employers to provide a safe and harassment-free environment for all their workers.’

‘An important starting point’
 
Greens Deputy Leader, Adam Bandt has backed the government’s push for national laws to address workplace bullying.
 
‘I am glad the government has accepted the need for workers to have access to an independent umpire when employers don’t act on bullying,’ he said.

The proposal has also been welcomed by Josh Bornstein, a workplace lawyer with Maurice Blackburn Lawyers. He said the ‘speedy’ complaints process will provide victims of workplace bullying with the ability to seek urgent orders to stop incidents of bullying from escalating to the point where health and career are seriously damaged by behaviour that is ‘illegitimate’ and ‘toxic.’

‘I have seen too many employees left devastated by sociopathic workplace bullies, their careers trashed along with their health and part of the problem has been a lack of a national law that allows those affected an early response mechanism,’ Bornstein said.

‘Bullying is not an IR issue’

Australian Chamber of Commerce & Industry’s chief executive, Peter Anderson, said the proposal to give the Fair Work Commission jurisdiction over workplace bullying was a ‘limited measure’ that overlaps state laws and cannot be enforced.

‘The Fair Work Commission is not a court and cannot prosecute breaches or enforce its decisions,’ he said.
 
‘On health and safety matters, State inspectorates and courts exercise that power.’
 
‘Adding a specific federal jurisdiction to receive complaints potentially allows forum shopping and adds a layer of complexity for business and enforcement agencies.’

The government proposal was also criticised by Ai Group’s chief executive Innes Willox, who said enabling the FWC to deal with complaints about workplace bullying would be ‘likely to cause more problems than it solves’.

‘Bullying is a serious issue, but it is a work health and safety issue and should not be mixed up with industrial relations,’ he said.

‘There is a lot of misunderstanding of what workplace bullying actually is. Workplace bullying is a problem that primarily falls within the jurisdiction of work health and safety laws, which have a strongly preventative focus, and not industrial laws.’

Willox said the government’s proposal is likely to create confusion and increase disputation.
 
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